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Hawkeyes welcome offseason shakeup

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- If you graded the magnitude of FBS coaching changes from the past offseason, Iowa's would barely make the needle move on the Richter scale.

Even in Big Ten territory, the ground shook more in places like State College, Columbus and Champaign. Iowa still has Kirk Ferentz, the new dean of Big Ten coaches, who has been at Iowa more than twice as long (13 seasons) as any of his peers in the league (Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald are next at six seasons each). Unlike Penn State and Ohio State, the program hasn't been mired in scandal, and none of the personnel moves were forced.

But in Hawkeye Country, the transformation of Ferentz's staff equates to The Big One.

Ferentz made the first two coordinator changes of his tenure, hiring former Texas assistant Greg Davis to oversee the offense and promoting secondary coach Phil Parker to lead the defense. Two assistants moved positions -- including Reese Morgan, who shifted from offensive line to defensive line -- and Ferentz hired two former players, Brian Ferentz and LeVar Woods, as position coaches.

In the quick-change environment of college football, such moves are typically greeted with a shrug. But Iowa has been the model of continuity. Before Davis, Ferentz hadn't made an outside coaching hire since naming Erik Campbell receivers/tight ends coach after the 2007 season. By keeping offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, defensive coordinator Norm Parker and strength coach Chris Doyle for the past 13 years, Iowa created what Ferentz calls "a great foundation of stability."

"We've had occasional changes here, but not like this," Ferentz told ESPN.com. "It was an interesting period."

It also has been an exciting one. Spring practice inherently brings a newness, as the slate is cleaned and planning accelerates for the upcoming season. But spring ball at Iowa has taken on a decidedly different tone, one Ferentz and his players are welcoming.

While Ferentz didn't force anyone out the door -- O'Keefe left for an assistant post with the Miami Dolphins, Parker retired and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left for Nebraska -- he vows that changes would have been made even if the staff had remained intact. Iowa has lost momentum following an 11-2 surge in 2009, its wins total dropping to eight during 2010 and to seven last fall.

"We just needed to go back and make sure everything made sense and was adding up the way we wanted it do," he said. "Just consider some new ideas, some things that might benefit our production. Now it's actually been forced by the [coaching] changes."

Asked how receptive he is to change, Ferentz, who some label as too conservative and set in his ways, replied, "wide open."

"Bottom line is we're 4-4 the last two years in conference play," he said. "If that's the best we can do, then that's fine. But we felt like we've left something out there."

The more seismic shift takes place on offense with Davis, who steps in after a year out of football. Although his 13-year tenure as Texas' offensive coordinator ended on a down note in 2010, his offenses averaged 39 points between 2000-09, the second highest total nationally and first among BCS automatic-qualifying teams.

Davis has had success with different schemes and different quarterbacks. While Iowa fans shouldn't expect a five-wide, spread attack this fall, a historically buttoned-up offense likely will loosen its collar a bit.

"I kept hearing from Kirk, 'Regardless of whether Ken had gone to Miami, we needed to do some things differently. We needed to make sure we're growing as a staff, as players, that we're taking advantage of what our kids can do,'" Davis told ESPN.com. "So meeting with the kids, meeting with the coaches, it's been very refreshing. They've been extremely open to everything. Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement.

"And I sense an excitement."

The feeling is mutual. Davis said last year was the first time he hadn't been part of a sports team since he was six years old.

The 60-year-old has returned to the field refreshed and revived.

"You can tell how much he loves the game," senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. "He gets really excited for practice, especially when we go against the defense. You'd think we were playing the Super Bowl with how excited he gets when we execute well. We show up early for lifting and he is literally here every morning at 6 a.m., always ready to go.

"We all kind of feed off of that."

Vandenberg enjoyed his time with O'Keefe and showed promise in his first season as the starter, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But after some struggles away from Kinnick Stadium and the team’s poor finish -- Iowa dropped three of its final four games -- Vandenberg also sensed a need for change.

"It's just new blood, which kind of re-energizes everybody,” he said. "It's making us work hard, and we're watching more film than we probably would in the spring. And it's making spring ball really competitive."

The changes on defense are more subtle. Phil Parker (no relation to Norm) said he"ll run "basically the same scheme" as his predecessor, sprinkling in some new ingredients and perhaps simplifying things for a group that is extremely young up front.

Parker is a new voice, though, and a powerful one.

"He's a go-getter," safety Micah Hyde said.

"I didn't think [the team] needed coaches leaving, that kind of change," Hyde continued, "but we haven't lived up to our expectations the last couple years. We definitely should have been playing better ball. It is a good thing, just to get some new input."

That a seven-win season equals disappointment in these parts resonates with Iowa players and coaches. Iowa hasn't had a losing regular season since 2000 and since 2001 has averaged 8.4 wins.

But Ferentz's critics point to his hefty salary, ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the fact that Iowa has had just one 10-win season since 2004. The team also needs to regain its mojo in close games, which have been the norm throughout Ferentz's tenure. After a terrific run from late in the 2008 season through most of the 2009 campaign, Iowa is 3-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer in the past two seasons.

"How we maximize those close situations usually determines how we end up," Ferentz said. "We haven't done a good enough job the last two years. Everybody would agree with that.

"That's documented, so what can we do?"

They've shaken things up. And just maybe they'll send shock waves through the Big Ten this fall.